By Lily O Ramos, PNA and U.S. News Agency / Asian
It’s very tough at the top, according to Philippine national men’s basketball team coach Rajko Toroman.
This is the reason why Smart-Gilas Pilipinas will be bracketed in Group A of the 22nd FIBA Asia Champions Cup along with Jordan, Malaysia, Japan and a representative from Middle Asia, either Kazakhstan or Afghanistan.
Powerhouse Group B will have Lebanon, Syria, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and defending champion Iran.
“Group A, I believe, will be an easier group because the other bracket has all national teams plus two imports,” said Toroman, who chose for Smart Gilas during Friday’s late afternoon draw presided by FIBA Asia deputy secretary-general Hagop Khajirian.
Present at the Discovery Suite, Pasig City during the draw for the tournament set May 28 to June 5 are Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan, SBP executive director Sonny Barrios, SBP deputy executive director Bernie Atienza, and former ABC secretary-general Moying Martelino.
Also witnessing the procedure are SBP and Smart Gilas officials.
“Group B really is too strong,” said Toroman, who hinted of the possibility of having PBA players Asi Taulava, Kelly Williams, Jimmy Alapag and Dondon Hontiveros join the team.
“We’ll think about it although they may also need some rest,” said the Nationals’ Serbian mentor. “But they will definitely have to join us when we go to Europe, maybe Portugal.”
As host, the Philippines was given the luxury of choosing which group it wants to belong to, and Toroman, who coached the Iran national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, picked the comparatively lighter side.
“We want to build confidence and get us ready for the next group,” he said. “And the quarterfinals are very important.”
The top four from each group will meet in a crossover quarterfinal matchup, with the winners meeting in the Final Four at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig.
Hagop said the official schedule will be released later, and that TV broadcast (ABC 5) will determine the time slots.
Pangilinan, who called the Champions Cup a “landmark event,” expressed gratitude to FIBA for “granting the country the staging of the tournament.”
Barrios, for his part, urged Filipino fans to support the national team and to help make the Champions Cup a “resounding success.”